The news is out: Beyoncé has branded herself a Madonna for our times – in both senses of the word – after telling the world she is expecting twins through her Instagram account. Here is everything you need to know:
Why should I care?
Beyoncé is undoubtedly the most high-profile pop star on the planet, and has been for several years. She is nearing her ninth wedding anniversary with rap star husband Jay Z, and since the pair started dating on the cusp of the millennium they have become one of the most adored couples in showbiz history. They are also the richest: in 2016 alone they collectively made $107.5 million, making them the highest-paid celebrity couple.
Beyond the cash, “The Carters”, as Beyoncé signed off her Instagram announcement last night, have considerable cache right at the top of global society: they were frequent dinner party guests of Barack and Michelle Obama while the former President was in office.
The past 18 months have seen The Carters, and Beyoncé in particular, become increasingly politically relevant. In 2016 she surprised the world with the release of Formation, her first new single in two years, which was unapologetic in its embrace of black culture. Days later, she gave a performance at the Super Bowl half-time show which paid homage to the Black Panthers movement.
Basically, this is the US equivalent of a royal birth announcement.
Will the twins be their first children?
No – daughter Blue Ivy was born in 2012. She just turned five, and last year made her first proper pop debut last year when she accompanied the lyrics “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros”.
So when will they be born?
A due date hasn’t been announced. But Beyoncé must be at least 12 weeks pregnant to be able to comfortably make the announcement. Kelly Butler, gestational guru for Vanity Fair (she correctly guessed that Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana would be called just that) and recent mother-of-twins, estimates that the pop star is 16 weeks along. The twins will most likely arrive at the end of summer.
Why announce the birth with a photo shoot?
Beyoncé is famously meticulous about the image she presents of herself: whether this means she stopped the publication of photographs she deemed unflattering from her 2013 Super Bowl performance, hiring the best art directors and cinematographers in the industry to create a video album (for Beyoncé, in 2014) or putting together an hour-long film to accompany the release of Lemonade in 2016.
The result, each time, is that she remains in control of the information about her she wants disseminated – and it rapidly makes its way round the internet: her pregnancy announcement broke the Guinness World Record for Most Liked Image within 12 hours of being posted – it gathered 1.4 million likes in half an hour.
Who created it?
Awol Erizku, a 26-year-old Ethiopian multimedia artist who has become quite the darling of New York’s art scene after graduating from Cooper Union in 2010. He received an MA in Fine Art from Yale in 2014, and is as equally well-connected with members of hip-hop collectives as he is art collectors. His work, which includes music and video as well as photography, examines black culture’s place within American culture – and he’s had a history of adapting famous tropes of Western art, such as Michaelangelos’ David or Vermeer’s The Girl with A Pearl Earring.
What is it inspired by?
Beyoncé is no stranger to art history, and has mined iconic references from the past half-century as part of her vision before. Take, for instance, the portrait of Elizabeth I painted after she defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, which strongly influenced the artwork for Bey's Mrs Carter tour:
But the pregnancy portrait also recalls the style adopted by Flemish portraiture of the 15th century, in which artists such as Jans van Eyck and Hans Memling depicted their subjects from a three-quarter angle. Beyoncé's expression is calmly commanding, which, from Erizku's lowered camera angle, makes her look motherly and softly authoritative.
It's worth noting that Beyoncé has played around with veils in her styling before: the huge backdrops she danced against during her Formation world tour featured her wearing one, and she appears similarly reverent in the video for Mine, from 2014.
There is, perhaps, a nod to mourning in the portrait. The floral wreath could be read as a momento mori to a miscarriage she suffered from her first pregnancy. Both she and Jay Z have made reference to the tragedy in their work before, he in a song called Glory, recorded days after the birth of Blue Ivy, and she on vengeful Lemonade single Sorry: "Here lies the mother of my children both living and dead." Beyoncé has also spoken about the miscarriage in a documentary, calling it "the saddest thing I've ever been through."
What does it mean for her Coachella performance?
Beyoncé has been booked as the first female headliner in a decade at Californian desert selfie-and-rock festival Coachella in April. By that point, she could well be into her third trimester: will she be able to perform?
The general consensus is yes – despite TMZ.com reporting that top-level producers at the festival had no idea Beyoncé was pregnant (not that surprising, as the advice is to keep schtum until 12 weeks anyway). Beyoncé took on major gigs when she was pregnant with Blue Ivy, including her 2011 Glastonbury headline slot – although she had not made her condition public at that point.
Furthermore, Beyoncé has performed while five months pregnant before. At the MTV VMAs 2011 she finished a stirring rendition of Love on Top (while in high-heeled platforms and dancing vigorously) by throwing down the mic, unbuttoning her sequinned jacket and stroking her protuding tummy.
She later explained: “I put a lot of thought into how I wanted to unveil it. It was important to me that I was able to do it myself. I was extremely nervous. It was the toughest red carpet I ever did. I decided to say nothing and proudly show my baby bump. I felt it was more powerful to see the love and enthusiasm as opposed to saying anything.”
And the Grammys?
Beyoncé was also billed to perform at the Grammy Awards, which take place on February 12. There’s not been a statement to suggest that she won’t appear, so we can only assume that this will be the first public outing of the new Beybie-bump – she's also nominated in nine categories, making her the most Grammy-nominated woman in history.
How will the twins impact on her career?
It’s often sage to remember the phrase: “You have the same 24 hours as Beyonce”, and there’s no reason why growing two tiny humans inside your stomach should stop you from being the greatest pop star in the world. As if to prove as much, she released an advertisement for her forthcoming new Ivy Park sportswear collection mere hours before telling the world of her baby joy.